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6 Ways to Cut Stress and Gain Perspective

Written by Paul Wolf

Many people suggest retreating to nature for tranquility and patience.  But what do you do, if you are city-strapped?

You might think the best place to practice tranquillity would be on some faraway mountaintop, preferably hundreds of miles away from the hustle and bustle and, yes, your beloved family.

Strike that notion!

The best place is a waiting room where you are told, "Dr. Jones is running approximately an hour and a half behind schedule today." Or the staff meeting, where you walk in late, wafting a bad smell, because your child got carsick before you dropped her off for school.

The best times to learn about stress reduction are during your most nightmarish moments of peak embarrassment, irritation or anxiety. These are the times when theory meets practice, unparalleled opportunities to learn the art of converting impatience to serenity.

"When we try to escape from irritating situations, such as waiting in line, by reading a magazine or spacing out, we actually stop being," says John Welwood, in Ordinary Magic: Everyday Life as a Spiritual Path. "We might use waiting in line as an opportunity to pay attention, to ride the wild horse of our impatience, or to explore our resistance to this experience."

In this light, stress isn't just emotional and physical. It's also spiritual. It's possible to view stress as a form of resistance to a given situation as it is. This isn't to negate the tremendous benefits to be gained from a five-mile run after work, or a weekend getaway after the completion of a demanding project. The key is to understand that our impatience is what ties the knots of stress, not the events themselves.

Seize hold of your everyday opportunities to practice patience:

  1. When your child insists on distracting your attention, smile, listen, give hugs and remember what it was like to be his age.
  2. When you are trapped someplace you don't want to be, consider Welwood's observation about the cosmic humor of your predicament. There you are ... "a spark of divine, standing in the supermarket line."
  3. When rushing from one errand to another, slow down. When you can't slow down, let your body and reflexes speed along briskly while your mind strolls.
  4. Preparing a meal for your family or doing other household chores, honor each step in the process as part of the expression of your love and caring.
  5. When you feel overwhelmed by everything you have to get done, tell yourself you only have to do one thing at a time. Make a list including even the smallest things you have to do, then check them off one by one.
  6. When you feel yourself resisting a thought or situation, tell yourself that it's in your power to experience this as something that topples you or something that makes your grow.

The most powerful way to assimilate patience as a virtue is to learn to be patient with yourself.

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